Working from home, how to do it right. 5 steps we all must take.
If you had told me this past January that most of us in the service industry would be working from home, I would have laughed nearly uncontrollably—not at you, of course, but at the notion that most of us would buy into the idea of zero commutes, no fixed lunch breaks, and no 5 p.m. rush hour. Here we are now, wondering how the world turned upside down and pausing for a brief moment to blink into the new set of realities many of us are unfamiliar with.
The first of many firsts, we were sent with our laptops to work from home, and our bosses cynically expected us to perform just the same or better. But aside from our familiar computer screen, we were sent with almost no training, tools, or home office know-how basics.
We heard stories about others already working from home. Glamorous images of ourselves often appeared in our imagination: sitting by the pool typing away on our computers, on the porch sipping a cup of coffee dressed only on the top half, or on the phone while running on our oft-neglected treadmill. But on our first day, we woke up from the dreamy working-from-home fantasy to a set of unexpected circumstances. The charming images vanished in the reality of a new working environment we were ill-prepared for.
To begin with, there are a few essential human elements that were snapped away in an instant. If we were lucky, we had experienced a social connection with our co-workers, a sense of collaboration, and instant feedback from those around us. At home, we began to wonder why we were not enjoying our home workplace the way we imagined.
Months have passed, and we have settled into a routine yet still unguided. We might have read a few articles about the best home office setup, and undoubtedly you have stumbled into “the best 25 items you need to buy to be more productive while working from home” and bought a few. To help you cope with the new remote work environment, follow these five steps as a short guide to rediscover and reinvent how we perform our jobs by reconnecting with ourselves.
We know the first step to solving a problem is recognizing you have one. Just the same, realize we are untrained, we are novices, we are rookies at doing this work-from-home routine, in which we find ourselves knee-deep by circumstances we never subscribed to. In doing so, we come to terms that we are not creatures of solitude, that the office water cooler is now a socializing symbol of the days we used to interact, communicate, and collaborate. With that, we can begin to enter the territory in light of our inexperience, without unrealistic expectations of charming images sold to us by getting-rich-quick-sales schemes and “some assembly required” furniture ads.
Whether you live in a studio or a large home, there is space within your home, and you must claim as your own that no one should be allowed to enter. This no-touch-or-else zone is your domain. Go savage if need be, but be sure that everyone knows where your corner stands. By doing so, and without physical barriers, you will create a mental map of where business happens, and your mind can focus.
“To begin with, there are a few essential human elements that were snapped away in an instant. If we were lucky, we had experienced a social connection with our co-workers, a sense of collaboration, and instant feedback from those around us. At home, we began to wonder why we were not enjoying our home workplace the way we imagined.”
If you didn’t like the wallpaper at your old office, you’re in luck—you don’t have to spend hours staring at it anymore. However, some elements were just right. Find those feel-good items and recreate them in your corner. Of course, if the best part of the office was a great view, it may not be possible to recreate it. In such a case, a picture frame will do. Imagine yourself sitting at your old office where everything was within reach. Did you have a printer? A stapler? Perhaps a second screen? The more you feel at like you are at work, the better you will focus.
I don’t believe in schedules at home. It is impractical to pretend we can focus for hours at a time in an environment full of distractions. If the type of job you perform allows it, work in intensely focused short periods: set a target task to complete, and charge towards it untethered. I call these “work bubbles” because while you are in them, your work must consist only of you and your desire to complete the task. In the bubble, the external world becomes secondary, and your thoughts, concentration, and energy are guided by the prospect of the satisfaction of having completed your work.
When the work is done, be done. Working from home has created a set of habits we will later regret. Always being on, ready, and available is a trend we find ourselves feeding into. Once we get caught in the cycle of an always-at-work mindset, we will spiral into feelings we would rather not experience. Although a set work schedule is impractical, a defined end of your workday is critical. I am more concerned with officially declaring an end to your workday than having a set time to end it.
Until recently, saying goodbye to peers for the day, getting on the elevator, and commuting home has been the transition routine that signals our brains to stop thinking about work. We don’t have that luxury anymore; we must create a simplified routine that can create the same signals to let us know our workday is over. It could be as simple as playing the same song each day, walking around the block, or taking time to prepare dinner or have a drink. Whatever you do, I believe this is the most critical part of working from home, because we shouldn’t be prisoners of our own professional skills and careers.
The immediate future is uncertain in ways it has never been, and many of us are navigating uncharted waters in a sea of new experiences. Hopefully, we will return to our offices with a greater appreciation of our corners. Our boundaries will be better defined. Our daily interactions will be more appreciative and meaningful, and we will begin to live with a better self-understanding.